This trade is different. Nothing stimulates discussion in the hockey world like a big trade, especially when the deal is one-for-one, mano a mano, a key player from one team assumes a key role with a new team.
There is no hiding room behind draft picks, prospects or secondary players. The results of the trade are clearly visible in a short period of time. Because of this immediacy, fans, media people and NHL employees are usually more than eager to share their thoughts on the particular transaction as soon as they hear of it.
I am usually deluged with opinions, often contrary, about which GM is a genius and which one just got fleeced. In the past couple of years, I think of the reaction to P.K. Subban-Shea Weber, Taylor Hall-Adam Larsson and Ryan Johansen-Seth Jones. However, the reaction was quite different when it was announced that Montreal had traded Alex Galchenyuk to Arizona for Max Domi. I have not experienced one person who offered a firm opinion on the merits of the deal. Instead, numerous people have addressed the topic with me in the form of questions. What did I think of the deal? What did I know about each player? And what role did I think that each of them would fill with their new teams?
So why is there so much uncertainty about two players who have both had high profiles throughout their NHL careers? Let’s take a closer look at each of the players so that we’re better able to have an informed opinion rather than simply asking more questions.
Both players assumed high profiles from the moment they were drafted. Galchenyuk was selected third overall by Montreal in 2012 despite missing virtually the entire 2011-12 season with a serious knee injury. That, combined with his Russian background despite being born and raised in North America, made him something of a mystery man. Observers concluded that this player must be a special talent to go so early in the draft coming off a severe injury. Domi was selected 12th overall in 2013 in the midst of an illustrious four-year junior career with the OHL’s powerful London Knights. His stocky build was unusual for a top prospect and reminded fans of his father, Tie, even though their styles of play are significantly different. Many of these fans were intrigued to see if Domi could overcome his size disadvantage as well as his Type 1 diabetes, for which he has become a role model.
Over their careers, both Galchenyuk and Domi have averaged 0.61 points per game, but Domi has been more productive because his even-strength scoring has been far higher. Galchenyuk has scored 31 percent of his points on the PP compared to 24 percent for Domi. Galchenyuk is a better goal-scorer (0.26 goals per game to 0.16 for Domi). Domi is a better playmaker (0.35 assists per game compared to 0.45 for Galchenyuk).
Beware the curse of high expectations. Both players have been bitten by it. Many fans thought that Galchenyuk would be the big, first-line center who could be the cornerstone for a Stanley Cup team. It did not happen. His offensive numbers the past two seasons have diminished, his ice time stagnated and his commitment to defensive play has become virtually non-existent. In the past two seasons he’s had twice as many giveaways as takeaways. The Canadiens gave up on him as a center and played him on the wing. Domi exceeded expectations with a 52-point rookie season in 2015-16 but has never matched that total. His ratio of takeaways to giveaways has gotten worse in each of the past two seasons. In an apparent attempt to allow star rookie Clayton Keller to play on the wing, Domi was tried at center this past season. The Coyotes were clearly not happy with the results. He had 62 giveaways with only 40 takeaways, he won less than 45 percent of his faceoffs, and he scored only nine goals in 82 games, with four of those goals being scored into an empty net. The Coyotes are clearly looking for a top two-line player with more size and better scoring upside.
Here is where the confusion comes in. Montreal has been offensively challenged. Its main weaknesses have been goal-scoring and size up front. Its weakest position has been center. It is trading a player with good size who scored 30 goals in 2015-16 while playing center. In exchange, the Habs receive a smaller player who is basically a winger who scored only five goals in 82 games when the opposition had a goalie in the net. Arizona scored even less than Montreal. Its weakest position is also center. The Coyotes trade their third-leading scorer, a young player with energy, in exchange for a player who could not play center regularly for a weak offensive team. The reality is that neither team addressed its major needs by completing this trade. Is it any wonder that fans are confused?
Galchenyuk may do better in an environment without the pressure of Montreal. He will skate with the best players in Arizona and get plenty of power-play time. Regardless of what position he plays, in order to get enough ice time to produce points, he will be a defensive liability. Leopards do not change their spots regarding commitment and work ethic. His main hope is to avoid the off-ice issues that seemed to haunt his years in Montreal. Domi is the type of player who will embrace the “big stage” in Montreal. He will likely be a two-way winger with high energy who produces a reasonable amount of offense mostly through playmaking. He does not need power-play time or the presence of the team’s best players in order to be effective. He will be durable.
Let’s stop making excuses for Galchenyuk. He was the first player drafted by Marc Bergevin after he became GM in Montreal. The Canadiens very much wanted him to succeed, but they finally ran out of patience. As an offensive forward, he will command big money. Teams that fork out big bucks to non-competitive, poor defensive players like Galchenyuk do not win. Domi must avoid the type of horrendous start that he experienced in 2017-18. If he can play the type of two-way, high-energy hockey that resulted in point-per-game production over the final 20 games of the season – with no power-play points – he can help the Canadiens be a competitive team. He will never command the salary of the gifted offensive players. He will provide a better return as a second-line investment than Galchenyuk will provide as a first-line investment. Forget the naysayers in Montreal. For a Stanley Cup contender, Domi over Galchenyuk. Montreal gets the better of the trade.
Tom Thompson has been an NHL scout/director/assistant GM since 1985.
This story appears in the August 20, 2018 issue of The Hockey News magazine.